The politics of skiing

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Why is it that all of our recent prime ministers of the Liberal faith have been skiers, indeed good skiers, while none of the Tory PMs or leaders of the Conservative/Reform/CA history will wear a ski jacket for what it’s intended? Do they not realize that a major powder day on January 23 will seriously affect the outcome of the election?

Think about it: Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, John Turner and PET were all strong skiers. But on the right side of politics, Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper—all hailing from the major skiing provinces—are in the chalet, fighting like skiers and snowboarders, or, I don’t know, working on policy papers and not moving beyond après ski. Pollsters have told us for months that Canadians want a change in government, but when it comes to leaders, are we really ready for a non-skier?

Having little personal interest in politics since working on an election campaign for a dad of a former roommate (and later Mulroney cabinet minister) back in the ’80s, I’ve always perked up when a political leader is photographed or filmed on the slopes. We’ve been treated to infamous but nevertheless entertaining stories such as Chrétien wanting to take just one more run at Whistler rather than attend the king of Jordon’s funeral. (“Dis is da ting about me and Hussein,” one source told me he overheard in the gondola lineup, “dere are no friends on a powder day.”)

Longtime Ski Canada photographer Don Weixl skied with JC at Silver Star in 1995. So keen to get going, Chrétien took off, with his posse scrambling to catch up, before Weixl was even off the chairlift. “I didn’t have to just get close, I had to get in front of the pack so I could shoot him skiing toward me,” said Weixl. “But I guess my big dark knapsack spooked one of the RCMP officers (jeans tucked into his rental boots, dark goggles, ear piece and mike) skiing beside him, so when he saw me overtaking, he tried to run me into the trees!”

Three years later, Weixl was asked by Silver Star management to shoot another visiting Right Honourable, this time Pierre Trudeau skiing with number-two son. “Sacha could easily have been a ski instructor,” said Weixl. “His dad was a little stiff but anyone skiing at 70 is a hero in my books.” (Trudeau was actually 78 at the time.)

So while Trudeau continued to impress his followers by skiing in the winter and paddling his cedarstrip canoe in the summer, Stockwell Day was roaring up to a press conference on a Jet Ski. A Jet Ski!

How Snackwell Day isn’t a skier is a mystery to me—his riding is the Okanagan! Stephen Harper divides his time between Ottawa and Calgary, two of the most outdoorsy cities in the country and he’s about as MEC-like as Madonna. Kim Campbell from Vancouver, Clark from Calgary, Mulroney from Quebec? What are their excuses? Sheila Copps is from the mountainous region of Hamilton, for crying out loud, and even Sheila skis.

When I called the Prime Minister’s Office to confirm our current PM’s taste in winter sports, I found it fascinating how the tone of voice softened so abruptly when his press secretary realized what I was calling about. Indeed, I was taken aback when she called me again the next day to let me know, in the heat of the impending no-confidence vote, that she and her boss had discussed my earlier call. He wanted me to know that although he grew up skiing with his Ottawa school buddies at Camp Fortune, dated Mrs. PM, Sheila, on the slopes of Blue Mountain and later was a regular around the Eastern Townships, he’s been permanently sidelined with a serious knee injury from a waterski accident. I wonder if a Jet Ski hit him.

Iain MacMillan
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